Beyond the Beat: Finding A New Protest Song

Posted March 11, 2024 | Author Jillian Recksiedler

Beyond the Beat: Music of Resistance and Change at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights showcases how music has played a crucial role in shaping and reflecting social and political movements throughout history.

Beyond the Beat: Music of Resistance and Change is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' latest blockbuster exhibit in celebration of its 10th year. It highlights the power of music as a tool for social change.

I figured I knew the kind of music the exhibit was going to celebrate. For me (a folkie at heart) music of resistance means Woodstock, Vietnam war peace anthems, and John and Yoko sitting in bed.

But as any conscience-stirring museum experience will do, Beyond the Beat challenges your bias, opens your eyes to other perspectives, and makes you consider things differently. What I learned: protest music comes in all types of genres, sounds, and words.

From disco to punk to hip hop

Beyond the Beat is located on ground level at the museum. The room is brimming with precious memorabilia - salvaged concert posters, vintage album covers and the coolest sample of clothing worn by activist musicians.

A pathway of dynamic interpretive panels guides you through the evolution of protest music - from Woodie Guthrie's 1940s union songs to 1960s civil rights icons like Nina Simone to the up rising of contemporary Indigenous musicians.

The content is impressive in its inclusiveness of musical genres and social movements. It touches on the rebellious punk subculture of the 1970s and the dance revolution of disco clubs that supported 2SLGBTQI+ rights. It documents the growth of hip hop out of the Bronx, which gave a voice to marginalized Black American communities. It touches on censorship of controversial rock and pop musicians in the 1980s like Twisted Sister and Madonna.

Beyond the Beat
appeals greatly to any musicophile, pop culture junkie, or artist (of any medium) who challenges the norm.

A sensory experience

Beyond the Beat is displayed in the museum's signature style, which is to say the exhibit is based in multimedia and interactive stories of the human experience. Video screens blasting music anchor the room - whether its 1980s hip-hop videos, a motion-sensor screen of the Village People performing YMCA, or a sit-down theatre playing interviews with young Canadian activist musicians such as Tegan and Sara.

The most interactive element is using one of the cardboard CD sensors to unlock the music and stories behind some of the key displays. Tap the speakers when you first enter the room to hear musicians' personal journey of human rights. Tap the boombox to learn about the decade-long battle to open Canada's first black-owned radio station. My personal favourite: tap the geometric light box to hear samplings from contemporary Indigenous musicians such as the soulful Samantha Crain and ethereal Elisapie.

A female touch

Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, I was drawn to the 'I Am Woman' display and gobsmacked to find memorabilia from some of my greatest music inspirations. My mother (a feminist, even if she didn't realize it) raised me on the buttery voices of k.d. lang and Rita MacNeil, so it was a treat to see their iconic suit and dress up close.

Alanis Morissette. Tracy Chapman. Sarah McLaughlan. The exhibit pays tribute to all of these powerful female artists of my youth. Ani DiFranco, whose mainstage act at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in the early 2000s changed the trajectory of my life, has a pair of dusty overalls on display.

Have Your Say

The final stop is an entertaining, touch-screen, concert poster station. You can choose from a variety of digital logos, icons and slogans to craft your own unique brand or message. When you publish the poster, it projects on a screen wall, adding your voice to the exhibit.

Beyond the Beat: Music of Resistance and Change is on until the end of September. Admission to the blockbuster exhibit is included with regular museum admission. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has free admission on Sundays.

About The Author

Hi, I'm Jillian, a marketer, communicator, traveller and Manitoba flag waver. Growing up in rural Manitoba during the '80s means I have a penchant for daytrips, maps (the paper kind), and prairie sunsets. I never tire of sharing stories about my home.

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